Wednesday, March 28, 2012

We are people through other people

What Drives Us?
We are people through other people (Bantu proverb)
Homo economicus and Homo geneticus
Two widespread perceptions or theories interpret or explain all human efforts and motivation from one single factor. One is socio-biology, which sees human agency as just a reflection of the selfish interest of genes to multiply, and the other is economicism and the invisible hand, which interprets all human actions as motivated by economic stimuli; that is, all traits that are ‘profitable’ will be chosen and will ultimately dominate. These two theories are not contradictory. Socio-biology is perhaps more applicable at the private level and economicism at the societal level. The more extreme proponents of both theories try toexplain all human behaviours with their respective theory, for instance that we chose partners on the basis of economic considerations alone.

Socio-biologists, with some support from the theory of natural selection, consider egoism of genes to be the engine of all developments and actions. They don’t deny that people can act altruistic but explain altruism as something that is driven by egoism in the first place.The fact that young men waste their genes as canon feed in a meaningless war—or in a dignified battle for freedom for that matter—is explained by the fact that they (or rather their DNA) can ‘count’ on the genes of their sisters being spread and, in such way, their own genes can live along. Or some other far-fetched explanation. 

That the world is not filled by rapists cannot be well explained by this theory but can well be understood with a societal perspective of human beings. If the desire for rape were genetic, only through a systematic killing of the infants born out of rape could it be contained, especially if there were no societal mechanisms against it (and such an infanticide would again be a societal response). Socio-biologists also fail to explain why women in high-income countries don’t have so many children. They could manage to raise four, and well up to ten, children and all would survive, spreading their genes much more effectively than with the current two children. Despite all these objections, it is quite clear that many human actions can be explained on rather simple evolutionary grounds—anything else would be sensational.

Simpleton economicists and their popularizers want to explain all human actions by economic drivers. Also, many Marxists tend to see the acts of different groups to be fully dependent on their economic standing in relation to as opposed to production factors—here the concept of ‘class’ is critical. The reasoning goes from self-evident things to very cumbersome explanatory models. History shows that economic motives and personal gain were in no way important drivers before capitalism. Material wealth has, for sure, always been attractive, but social status and power have always been more important. And economic wealth was not the route to these; many cultures despised trade and entrepreneurship. 

The basic error is the perception that economic drivers are superior to all other drivers and that all other drivers can be ‘translated’ into money. If one studies certain periods in history one might indeed get this impression. The strength in the reasoning is that the economic driver is a forceful paradigm with many self-reinforcing loops. And as a society is built along this paradigm, human beings consciously and subconsciously create a world that rewards exactly this; in such a way it becomes self-fulfilling. But this is not truer than the statement that the most important driver for human development is the ability of an individual to throw a spear farther than anyone else. This ability was most likely very important in a hunter society or a war society, much more important than the ability to amass wealth.

Even the liberal economist and philosopher Friedrich von Hayek (2001) notes in his famous The Road to Serfdom, an attack on both fascism and socialism, that the ultimate objectives of a rational person are never economic; that there is no ‘economic motive’, but only economic factors that influence our ability to achieve other goals. Another version of economicism is the idea of ‘rational choice’ , that is, the idea that one can find a rational explanation to all human deeds. Also, this idea is to some extent totally self-evident and totally meaningless in the sense that irrational choices most certainly will lead to failure in the long run as this is more or less the definition of ‘irrational’; if it is successful it isn’t irrational . . .

The arguments of the economists and socio-biologists can complement each other and don’t necessarily contradict each other. Also, the economists and socio-biologists are often the same people, or the same people use their arguments alike. If economic wealth also leads to higher levels of reproduction, they most certainly complement each other. While there are some indications that success is attractive, it doesn’t seem to translate into rich people or rich societies having more children than poor people or poor societies. Modern population patterns seem to support a totally opposite view. The poor have more children and today they also have more surviving children. Both theories forget the importance of the social and cultural context.

We are tamed by culture
Many look towards animals for guidance on which behaviours are ‘natural’, with the
understanding that what is ‘natural’ is good or right or, at least, inevitable. And, for sure, many interesting parallels exist between human and animal behaviour. But the search in nature for examples of certain behaviours is often coloured by what people want to see. For some reason, many tends to look a lot more towards chimpanzees than bonobos. Both species are equally close to human beings, so why are comparisons drawn mainly with the aggressive chimpanzees? Chimps live in aggressive patriarchates whereas bonobos live in matriarchates, using sex for social interaction and conflict resolution. While social hierarchies do exist among bonobos, rank plays a less prominent role than in other primate societies. Isn’t it so that human beings project what they want to see in the examples they seek? Space doesn’t allow any major digression into gender, but if there is any area where the most meaningless comparisons with nature are made, it is here. Even human reproduction is described in terms of male activity and female passivity, while reality might be quite different.

Nature has such diversity that one can find almost any behaviour there.The long adolescence of a human being is long and slow for a (evolutionary) reason. Whileone can envision human beings growing up in a few years, like horses or cows, or in half a year, like dogs or pigs, in reality human beings need a lot more time. A newborn chimp’s brain weighs around 60% of a grown-up chimp’s brain, whereas a newborn human’s brain weighs just 24% of an adult human’s brain (Gärdenfors 2003). It takes human beings some 12–18 years to grow up, and this time frame seems to get longer as society becomes more and more complex. Humankind has to learn so many things and, more importantly, human beings need to be ‘socialized’. Some even qualify the human brain as a bio-cultural organ (Weltzer 2011), with layers of accumulated cultural learning. Through culture, society harnesses and adapts some genetic heritage.

For instance, let us look at reproduction. In almost all cultures, human beings wait to reproduce long after they reach sexual maturity; in many societies, parents try—admittedly, sometimes unsuccessfully—to control their offspring’s choice of mate. Most rules and customs in society are mainly about the preservation of society and not so much about biology. Ultimately, behaviours that are taught must, in the end, be considered as ‘natural’ as other behaviours that are more clearly genetically conditioned, and they areas much or as little ‘good’ as behaviours that are genetically conditioned. Society andculture are a part of the human species. Without society, without culture, without the mastering of fire or without language (which is a very good example of a social innovationthat is essentially human), we are simply not human beings one is simply not a human being. 

Therefore, the argument that genetically conditioned behaviours are more important or more ‘real’ than culturally conditioned behaviours is a denial of humanity. This is not incontradiction to the survival of the genes because human genes are most common with those of the family, then with those of society and, finally, with those of humanity at large. It is also not in contradiction to the human quest for utility as individuals, which the
economists claim is the predominant force. Human society and cultures recognize both behaviours but have always reined in their forces.

Mutual aid
The Russian geographer, and anarchist, Peter Kropotkin wrote Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution (1902) in response to ‘social Darwinism’ and, in particular, to Darwin’s supporter Thomas H. Huxley’s essay ‘The struggle for existence in human society’ (1891), where Huxley applied Darwin’s observations to human society, citing ‘survival of the fittest’ as the predominant force in shaping human society and development. Kropotkin was strongly against Huxley’s perspective. He supported Darwin’s theories about natural selection, but believed that, at least in Huxley’s version, it overemphasized the struggle between individuals of the same species. Kropotkin looked at other animals, but in particular at human society, and claimed that mutual aid is an important principle both in nature and in human development. He cited the cooperation in mediaeval cities, in village communities and workers’ cooperatives as successful examples of mutual aid. He showed how such self-organized voluntary systems operated the fisheries in the Caspian Sea, the Volga and the Urals.

And today, open-source software development is a good example of the successful application of mutual aid. ‘Perhaps in the end the open-source culture will triumph notbecause cooperation is morally right or software “hoarding” is morally wrong . . . , but simply because the closed-source world cannot win an evolutionary arms race with open-source communities that can put orders of magnitude more skilled time into a problem’ (Raymond 2000).

Recently, Sloan Wilson (2003) showed the importance of human cooperation (among others in the form of religion) in his book Darwin’s Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society. He gives an example to better understand how ‘groups’ or ‘societies’ can be ‘adaptive units’, that is, subject to ‘laws’ of evolution at the level of the group and not only at the level of the individual. Males of some species can kill infants in order to mate with the mothers. This would be, and is, a successful reproduction strategy for them, but not for the mothers, the infants, the group or the species. Human beings (human society) have a moral revulsion against such practice and the person trying it would be excluded from the group. Such a group would be better adapted and more successful than a group that did not have such moral codes. In this way, moral systems have evolved by group selection to suppress self-serving (but group-damaging) behaviours. Sloan Wilson notes, however, that ‘those groups of males who do not kill each other’s offspring might well kill the offspring and appropriate the females from other groups’ (2003: 38). This puts the solidarity of us our own group (people, tribes whatever category) and our hostility
towards ‘the other’ in an understandable evolutionary context. One can lift the discussionone level higher though, where the survival of the entire species depends on the human ability to adapt to new situations (such as climate change). Such a situation would then assign adaptive group properties to the whole species and be a ground for universalism.

All these are just examples of  that societies also are evolutionary, adaptive organisms, where the cooperation of individuals are almost as important as the cooperation of cells within the body.

The unit of survival is not the individual
Perhaps it would have been wiser or better to have grown a thick fur than to have built houses, and to have developed more body fat and flippers to swim better, but that was not the adaptive response of humankind. I venture that the speed of human development and the complexity of human society don’t allow for a sufficiently rapid genetic adaptation of the individual. Gregory Bateson says: ‘the unit of survival is a flexible organism-in-its-environment’ (2000: 457). I believe that ‘environment’ should here be understood to encompass ecosystems,
but also culture and society; all of these work together as adaptive responses, and it is only by taking care of all of them that one we can meet the challenges of the future.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Green growth sounds nice, but can it deliver?

"The difficulty lies not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones "
John Maynard Keynes
A new UNCTAD Discussion Paper (No. 205) written by Ulrich Hoffmann reviews the fallacies of green growth in coping with climate change and the implications for development space.The main results of the analysis can be summarized as follows: Many economists and policy makers advocate a fundamental shift towards “green growth” as the new, qualitatively-different growth paradigm, based on enhanced material/resource/energy efficiency and drastic changes in the energy mix. “Green growth” may work well in creating new growth impulses with reduced environmental load and facilitating related technological and structural change. But can it also mitigate climate change at the required scale (i.e. significant, absolute and permanent decline of GHG emissions at global level) and pace?  
The UNCTAD Discussion Paper argues that growth, technological, population-expansion and governance constraints as well as some key systemic issues cast a very long shadow on the “green growth” hopes. 

The focus on green growth is largely a re-packing of the 25 years old sustainable development, of which we heard a lot but seen very little. It may rather give excuses to do nothing really fundamental that can bring about a U-turn of global GHG emissions. The proponents of a resource efficiency revolution (called eco-efficiency, factor 4 or factor 10 or lately simply green growth) need to scrutinize the historical evidence, in particular the combined effects of economic and population growth.
 Furthermore, they need to realize that the required transformation goes beyond innovation and structural changes to include democratization of the economy and cultural change. 
 Climate change calls into question the global equality of opportunity for prosperity (i.e. ecological justice and development space) and is thus a huge developmental challenge for the South and a question of life and death for some developing countries, and a question of global solidarity for the others.

The paper is available at: 

The paper is welcome and its origin in a UN organization gives it high credibility.

Read more:

Eco-efficiency and de-coupling are not delivering
Poverty, Property and Profit
Jackson's Cinderella economy
Green Economy a win-win-win?

 Now, this should not be taken as if I would be against all the good new green innovations, such as organic farming, solar energy, electric cars etc. But it is important to realize that our challenges go beyond what can be fixed with a few technological changes and consumer choice in a market economy. This is clearly seen in the case of organic farming. It has grown tremendously in the last 25 years, but still only represent one percent of the global food market. The underlying drivers of the capitalist economy works in the other direction, and the consumers who pay extra for organic products are paying for market failures in the lingo of neo-liberals, but I would call it policy failure or even more dramatic:

systems failure. game over



Thursday, March 15, 2012

growth is the religion of capitalism

There is no land left to settle, the last frontier we have left to civilize is ourselves.
(Jewel Kilcher, from the album cover of This Way, 2001)

In nature, some species are pioneers or colonizers; they are the first to invade ‘new’ lands, such as land created by lava from a volcano, the land after a forest fire, the naked land after a mudslide or other kind of erosion or land rising from the sea. These species prepare the land for a richer life. Normally, they are specialists in living on limited nutrients, such as lichens and moss. Human beings are also a kind of colonizer, even if certainly not the first ones to take new land into possession. The Swedish psychiatrist Nils Uddenberg (1993), in his book Ett djur bland alla andra?, writes that ‘the colonization stage of humanity is over. There is no new land to conquer; we have to learn how to live from the land we already have. Other paradigms have to replace the pioneer mentality.’.

This train of thought is not at all shared by those who see how the restless energy of capitalism constantly expands our world. ‘The conquest of the air may well be more important than the conquest of India was—we must not confuse geographical frontiers with economic ones,’ says Schumpeter (1942: 117), and his words are repeated today by almost all defenders of the existing system. In a limited sense he was correct; the airline industry perhaps has the same gross output as the GDP of India, and if it doesn’t, one can throw in the mobile networks, radio and television, all using the air for the service they provide.

But Schumpeter was also wrong because he didn’t see that the economy is a subsystem of nature and not the other way round. Although it is true that economic, geographic or biological limits should not be mixed up, this doesn’t mean that the economy can move any of the other limits. It just means that when one has reached the limit, expansion will have to take place somewhere else, which is exactly what is happening all the time and which is why capitalism is based on colonization and not on living within limits. Which is also why growth is the religion of capitalism, without it, it will crumble.
(Extract from Garden Earth)

Monday, March 12, 2012

Nuclear power only possible with state backing.

'The Dream that failed' is the headline of the special report on nuclear energy in The Economist.Despite generous government research-and-development programmes stretching back decades, a new spring for nuclear does not look likely. The Economist says
"Innovation tends to thrive where many designs can compete against each other, where newcomers can get into the game easily, where regulation is light. Some renewable-energy technologies meet these criteria, and are getting cheaper as a result. But there is no obvious way for nuclear power to do so. Proponents say small, mass-produced reactors would avoid some of the problems of today’s behemoths. But for true innovation such reactors would need a large market in which to compete against each other. Such a market does not exist."

It is interesting that one of the reasons for why such markets don't exist any longer is the kind of de-regulation that The Economist has promoted for decades, and which most governments have adopted. It is then only logic that  it is almost only in countries where the government is regulating heavy that nuclear power has a future, for example in China. But not even in China is the future that bright. The Chinese plan to install more wind power than nuclear power the decades to come. But China is simply so weary of its energy future that it makes bets on all sorts of energy, well knowing that many of them will fail, and that NO energy source can quench the thirst of a business as usual Chinese expansion. 

The journal has also a realistic take on safety, giving some credit to those that highlighted the dangers: 'nuclear plants can be kept safe only by constantly worrying about their dangers'. 

Usually, techno-optimist the Economist, dismiss putting much faith in heavily promoted Generation III or Generation IV nuclear power plants. The fundamentals are simply not there and in more than fifty year, despite enormous money spent on research there have been no major break through for practical workable solutions, just a lot of hyped "new" technologies that never result in any commercially viable solutions. 

The Economist concludes that renewable energy is likely to play a much bigger role than nuclear in the future. Energy from renewable sources has also become much cheaper as new technologies develop and innovations come into play - while nuclear energy is just getting more and more expensive for every year.

And still we are not really calculating the true price for that technology. The costs for keeping storage for thousands of years are obviously not at all covered by anybody today. In the end they will end up neglected like other tombs for eternity, such as the pyramid - and then at a certain point tomb raiders, or some kids will fall into them....

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Technology is rarely neutral

This is a sad hoax, for industrial man no longer eats potatoes made from solar energy; now he eats potatoes partly made of oil. 
(Howard T. Odum, Environment, Power, and Society, 1971)

The Greeks knew the power of steam and built the first steam engine as a plaything; they even knew the principle behind electricity. Water toilets were developed in Egypt some 5000 years ago and were used by the Romans, but it took thousands of years before they came into common use. The wheel was known in Latin America, but was not used productively before Columbus. The first faxes were developed in the nineteenth century but it took another 100 years for them to become common.[1] Fuel cells, which are seen as technology for the future, have been around for more than 150 years, but never reached the stage of a technological breakthrough. The first steam engines in Sweden stood idle, collecting dust, mainly because they were not profitable and partly because there were no competent operators (Hård and Jamison 2005), a situation similar to that of a lot of technologies that are, mistakenly, introduced in developing countries today. All these examples show clearly that the existence or the knowledge of a technology doesn’t mean it will be used. 

Many reasons exist for why a technology is or is not used. The word technology comes from Greek techne, meaning ‘art’, and we know that a lot of technology was (and still is) used for pleasure, for the demonstration of power or for religion. Realms with a large population and a small elite whose wealth is based on extortion of the masses most likely developed very few productive innovations, the majority being developed to amuse and entertain the rulers. Therefore, technological development was very slow in the big agrarian empires.

War and conflict have been forceful drivers of innovation, comprising examples of the importance of government-supported innovation. The Egyptians knew of the wheel, yet their slaves used sledges to pull boulders for the pyramids. But the use of the wheel rapidly spread in its military application in the form of the chariot. One can also compare the spread of the saddle and the spur with the spread of the harness. The saddle and the spur were of critical military importance and gave a marked advantage to the armies using them, so they spread rapidly. The harness was mainly used for draught animals in farming and spread across the world very slowly (Lönnroth 1977). Modern examples of innovations with a military origin are pasteurization, the Internet and antibiotics. Communications is another area in which innovation was (and still is) very strong. Innovations in shipbuilding or navigation played a major role in determining which people would rule. The supple Viking ships could reach into narrow fjords and rivers and were key to the Viking expansion; later the cogs of the Hanseatic League took over, owing to greater capacity (Lönnroth 1977). Thus, societies that developed quicker or safer means of communication or those of higher capacity had a marked advantage over others. 

The Chinese emperors were sceptical to technological development as it threatened stability. The Japanese are another example. Japan first came in contact with guns in the sixteenth century. In the early seventeenth century, it produced more and better guns than any other country in the world. However, the samurai, the military nobility, felt threatened by this foreign invention and gradually managed to curb production and licensing. Ultimately production ceased altogether, and resumed only when the first American warships appeared in Japanese waters in 1853 (Diamond 1997). In France, the scythe was not allowed to replace the sickle for a long time because there were communal rights to graze cattle on stubble, the value of which would be lost if a scythe were used (Boserup 2005). 

Technology is not neutral. It serves the interest of the social group that develops it. With its symbolic power it supports the legitimizing ideology of society and the worldview it represents. Think of the steam engine or the space ship not to speak of the atomic bomb. Schiermeier et al. write that nuclear energy has ‘benefited from decades of expensive research, development and purchases subsidized by governments; without that boost it is hard to imagine that nuclear power would currently be in use’ (2008: 18). Technology has also enabled development of the modern city and the relative independence of its hinterland. The early cities were, with a few exceptions, built on the relationship with the surrounding agrarian landscape. A lot of production occurred in the farms and the economy of the city and its hinterland was interwoven. With the Industrial Revolution, the transport revolution and capitalism, cities could free themselves from ties to their hinterland for raw materials, labour and markets. Thus, workers in Manchester spun cotton from the United States, picked by African slaves, and sold the fabrics in India.  

Technology also creates or cements power relationships and patterns of exploitation in various ways. Mostly, technological developments lead to suppliers of raw materials getting a rough deal compared to those who use the products of a certain technology. This is the basis for accumulation of capital, for profit, in industrial processes where ‘raw materials + work + cost of production’ has a lower value than the product resulting from these inputs. The same holds true in international trade or in the international division of labour. Alf Hornborg (2009) goes as far as stating that technology in a fundamental way is about such price relationships and a tool for exploitation; there is no technological rationality separate from issues of distribution.

[1]            To soon be forgotten again. Young readers will probably have to look up ‘fax’ in Wikipedia to check what it is.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Eco-efficiency and de-coupling are not delivering

To quibble with this kind of system [capitalism] about its values, to frighten it with visions about the consequences of growth, is to quarrel with its very metabolism.
(Murray Bookchin, Toward an Ecological Society, 1980)

Commerce and industry appear to have taken environmental issues to heart. Many environmental organizations are either oriented to big business, such as the Natural Step or Forum for the Future, or formed by big business, such as the World Sustainable Business Forum. Organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund, Sierra Club and Rainforest Alliance increasingly orient themselves towards the industry. Environmental considerations are regarded as profitable; examples of saving energy, saving materials or saving water are repeated again and again to show how human beings, and the industry, without any sacrifice can have a smaller environmental footprint. The signs about saving water, detergent and energy are in hotel rooms all over the world. Eco-efficiency, including Factor 4 or perhaps Factor 10, is talked about. The United Nations launched a new initiative in 2009, when the financial crisis surfaced and climate change still was on everybody’s lips, the ‘Green Economy’. The message in all this is quite consistent, and has its origin in the report of the Brundtland Commission, Our Common Future (United Nations 1987), which was the starting point for the widespread usage of the term ‘sustainable development’ in 1987. ‘What is needed now is a new era of economic growth—growth that is forceful and at the same time socially and environmentally sustainable, writes Gro Harlem Brundtland in the foreword to the report (United Nations 1987: xii). One learns that it is possible to combine economic growth with social and environmental development; not only that, the message is actually that more economic growth is needed to deal with these challenges, and that a free market is best situated to deal with the issues. But as we will see this is an illusion, a delusion or just wishful thinking.

Those who argue that the market economy can deal with the environment and resource use in a good way are very fond of terms such as ‘eco-efficiency’ and ‘de-coupling’. They refer to inverted u-curves or Kuznets curves that are supposed to show that, at a certain stage, increased growth will reduce environmental problems instead of increasing them. It is shown that energy per GDP unit goes down in high-income countries or that use of other raw materials per GDP unit is less. In the period 1975–1993, the total material need per GDP unit decreased in Germany, Japan, the Netherlands and the United States (WRI 1997). Deforestation is often rampant in countries in early stages of their growth, but tends to go down with increased income and finally reverses in high-income countries; no nation where annual per capita GDP exceeded US$ 4600 had a negative rate of forest volume (Kauppi et al. 2006). 

Meanwhile, the average American will, during his or her lifetime, consume some 450 tons of construction materials, 18 tons of paper, 23 tons of wood, 16 tons of metals and 32 tons of chemicals. Consumption of raw materials in the United States increased 17-fold whereas population trebled between 1900 and 1990 (Carley and Spapens 1998). The global GDP grew from US$ 19 trillion (constant 1995 dollars) in 1980 to US$ 35 trillion in 2002, a growth of 83%. The materials use, meanwhile, increased from 40 billion tons to 55 billion tons, a growth of 36%. Expressed as kilogramme per dollar it means a reduction from 2.09 to 1.55 kilogrammes per dollar, but still the total use increased substantially (Giljum and Hinterberger 2004). The first long-term global study says

Humanity currently uses almost 60 billion tons (Gt) of materials per year. In particular, the period after WWII was characterized by rapid physical growth, driven by both population and economic growth. Within this period, there was a shift from the dominance of renewable biomass towards mineral materials. Materials use increased at a slower pace than the global economy, but faster than world population. As a consequence, material intensity (i.e. the amount of materials required per unit of GDP) declined, while materials use per capita doubled from 4.6 to 10.3 t/cap/yr. (Krausmann et al. 2009: 2697)

Figure 15.1 Materials use by material type (1900–2005).
Source: Krausmann et al. (2009).

Between 1900 and 2005, the only periods of absolute de-materialization coincided with economic recessions and the two world wars (see Figure 15.1). Across the whole period, materials use grew much faster than the population but slower than the GDP. Use per person thus doubled in the period whereas use per GDP unit decreased to only 40% of what it was earlier. Biomass, which is among other sources for human nutrition, seems to be linked primarily to population growth, whereas the use of non-renewables is much closer linked to economic growth (Krausmann et al. 2009). And the other way round as well, the energy expert Robert Hirsch (2008) estimates that a decrease of oil supply by 1% percent will shrink the GDP also by 1%. 

Emissions and resource use in some rapidly developing countries, such as China, are to a large extent the result of export to high-income countries. Most high-income countries are net importers of emissions and pollution that take place in the exporting countries (see earlier discussion about greenhouse gas emissions) and they also ‘use’ a lot of resources in exporting countries. In sync with increased consumption, transports are increasing, and for them there seems to rather be the opposite of de-coupling. Between 1990 and 1999, the growth of transport within the European Union was higher than the growth of GDP (SCB 2003). Global maritime transports are also increasing at a pace quicker than the GDP. The International Maritime Organization predicts that, in the absence of correcting policies, emissions from ships may grow by 150%–250% between 2007 and 2050. Aviation is also growing exponentially. Technological improvements have not at all sufficed to compensate for the emissions from the growing transport sector. New aircraft are 70% more fuel-efficient than those designed 40 years ago. A further 20% gain by 2015 over 1997 levels seems attainable, and perhaps a 40%–50% gain by 2050. However, such improvements are insufficient to keep emissions and resource use at reasonable levels in view of aviation’s rapid expansion (UNEP 2008, 2011).  

There are certainly areas where industries have been able to grow and total emissions and resource use have decreased. The paper and pulp industry in Sweden has, in 25 years, gone from a big waster of resources to an almost closed system. Use of water, sulphur dioxide emissions and emissions of organochlorides have all been reduced by more than 90% (Eklund 2000). But these are exceptions. Materials use seems to flatten out in more mature economies; their economic growth is also moderate. For humanity at large it is now more interesting to see what happens in the growth economies of today. A middle-income country like Mexico shows a very strong correlation between materials use and GDP, even if GDP grows at a slightly quicker pace (Gonzalez-Martinez and Schandl 2007). 
(extract from my book Garden Earth, forthcoming)